Dr. Robert Hare, who did seminal work in identifying psychopaths, refers to them as “intraspecies predators.” This prompted questions from a Lovefraud reader who asked,
- If psychopaths are indeed natural predators (by implication, their design is part of nature’s plan to maintain some balance) then would we ever be able to weed them out of society?
- Do they have a purpose in the natural order of things?
In this article, I’m going to address the second question. Then, next week, I’ll suggest an answer to the first question.
I don’t know about a purpose, but there are researchers who believe psychopaths are around us today because they survived the natural selection process of human evolution.
These researchers call psychopathy “a nonpathological, reproductively viable, alternate life history strategy.” This theory is outlined in Coercive and Precocious Sexuality as a Fundamental Aspect of Psychopathy, a paper published in 2007 by Grant T. Harris, PhD; Marnie E. Rice, PhD; N. Zoe Hilton, PhD; Martin L. Lalumiere, PhD; and Vernon L. Quinsey, PhD.
Let’s talk about the evolution idea first. The authors write that our distant ancestors probably formed stable groups, characterized by cooperation and adherence to rules, which enabled early mankind to survive and flourish. However, some humans survived through cheating and exploiting others—the alternative life strategy.
Grant et. al. write that from childhood, psychopathic personalities are fundamentally different from others, but the differences are not the result of a medical failure or injury. They point out that pregnancy difficulties can be related to schizophrenia and mental retardation, but not psychopathy. “While many adverse medical conditions and injuries lead to antisocial and violent behavior, our selectionist hypothesis suggests that they do not cause psychopathy,” they write.
The early psychopaths—cheaters then as now—put a lot of energy into acquiring sexual partners, and were willing to use deception and coercion to do it. As a result, they produced a lot of offspring. Even if early psychopaths died young because then, as now, they probably engaged in high-risk behavior, their liberal procreation was enough to get the hereditary train rolling.
Sex and criminal behavior
Psychopaths first have sex at a young age, have many partners, and are uncommitted in sexual relationships. Studies show that people who have this approach to sex also are more likely to engage in criminal and violent behavior.
Some people, called life course persistent offenders, Grant et. al. write, “begin aggressive and antisocial conduct at very young ages and persist at rates higher than any other offenders throughout the lifespan.”
People tend to think that their problem is poor social learning, that individuals who break laws against crime and violence also break social norms regarding sex. But research has also shown that delinquency and antisocial behavior are associated with early onset of puberty and sexual activity. Young people don’t learn, or decide, when to mature sexually. So why is there a connection between early onset of puberty and crime?
Grant et. al. believe that “coercive and precocious sexuality” is not a result of the psychopathic personality, but a key to defining it. For the study described in the paper, the researchers predicted “early onset, high frequency and coercive sexuality would be a key, unique and diagnostic feature of psychopathy.”
The researchers studied the case histories of 512 male sex offenders. (Sex offenders were selected because their files generally contain detailed information about their sexual history.) They established the scores of the offenders on the Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R). They also looked at the sexual histories of the offenders prior to age 15. A statistical analysis revealed correlations between early and frequent sexual behavior and sexual coercion with general antisocial behavior and elevated PCL-R scores.
“We propose that interpersonal sexual and nonsexual aggression are not best conceived of as the consequence of psychopathic personality traits, but as fundamental aspects of the condition itself,” the authors wrote.
The researchers’ expected that coercive and precocious sexuality were indicators of psychopathy because of their original hypothesis—psychopathy is an alternative life strategy.
“From a theoretical perspective, the present results lend some support to a selectionist hypothesis that psychopathy exists because it has been a heritable and reproductively viable condition during human evolution.”
Psychopaths, in other words, are not physically defective or medically ill. These researchers believe that they are just different, and, because they engaged in a lot of sex, were able to pass on their genes through the millennia.
Read the complete study:
They are what they are
It’s shocking to think that there may be nothing medically wrong with these “intraspecies predators.” But in a way, the idea that psychopaths are pursuing an “alternate life history strategy” dovetails with what we often say here on Lovefraud. Psychopaths are what they are. They are cheaters and exploiters. They take advantage of others because that’s what they do.
Did nature intend this? I don’t know, but they survived.
While researching this story, I came across another paper with an interesting perspective on what to do about it, which I’ll discuss next week.